Servant Leadership

This coming Sunday is the 29th Sunday in Year B of the lectionary cycle. In previous posts we have explored the request for glory from the Apostles James and John, Jesus answer, the reaction of the other disciples and a subsequent teaching from Jesus on servant leadership: Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; 44 whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. In these short verses, which in many ways parallels 9:35 (“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”), there is one difference that Stoffregen notes. In v.44 he/she will be a servant [diakonos] of you (plural, indicating the Twelve), while v.45 is he/she will be a slave [doulos] of all. This is not a distinction that Matthew makes in his parallel (Mt 20:26-27).

Stoffregen wonders if Mark is making the point that our service and discipleship is not limited to the group, but is pointedly service to the whole world, to all. Is the change from diakonos to doulos Mark’s way of placing a greater emphasis on serving all people and not just those within the believing community. Juel [Mark, 149] has this comment about the passage: “While Jesus’ first comments about discipleship suggest that followers must be prepared to take up their crosses and follow even all the way to death, that does not seem to be the issue here. The question is not willingness to die but rather willingness to lead without flaunting authority. The whole passage has to do with status and leadership — hardly of interest or concern to a community of desperate, persecuted believers. Such comments would be of interest to a community that has tasted power and likes it, a community that is already experiencing the pressures of institutionalization.”

45 For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The word for ransom (lytron) occurs only here and the Mt parallel. It refers to the price paid to free a slave. Related words are frequently translated as “redemption” or “redeemer”. The reply to James and John highlights the archetypal character of the death of Jesus. The final saying points once again to the Son of Man as the one who has come to serve—not the glory the disciples had in mind. It also states the reason for Jesus’ death: “a ransom for many” (v. 45). This formulation distinguishes Jesus’ death from those of martyr disciples, like James and John. The disciple shares Jesus’ suffering but does not offer his or her own life as a sacrifice for the sins of others.

“This final section parallels the opening exhortation to bear one’s cross in imitation of the Son of Man, who came to serve (8:34–38). The self-denial associated with the cross does not always mean martyrdom, even in Mark. Another form of self-denial has been emphasized throughout these chapters: denying the human demand for honor, power, and status. The repeated struggles for honor among the disciples show what a difficult task that reversal of values is. The image of ransom as liberation from slavery opens up an additional dimension of Jesus’ self-sacrifice. It is the true meaning of the victory over evil, which has been enacted in Jesus’ healings and exorcisms.” [Perkins, 654]

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